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Monday, January 8, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Brier Dudley

Vista opens door to host of gewgaws

Seattle Times staff columnist

I'm a little confused.

I thought a Windows Vista PC would be the hub of my networked home, the digital furnace where I'd store and manage a growing pile of digital photos, music and video. But it turns out Vista is just the start. Now I'm going to need another $500 Windows box, the Home Server that Bill Gates unveiled Sunday at the Consumer Electronics Show.

One way or another, most people eventually will have something like this in their home, like a big, stationary iPod without the headphones and tiny screen.

They'll store digital music, video, recorded TV, photos and other digital files, so you can play them back through flat-panel displays, stereos, computers, game consoles and handheld devices connected to the home network.

If you buy all the gewgaws that Bill pitched last night, home servers may even someday load your car stereo with music, wirelessly, when you pull in the driveway.

Home servers are the next step beyond the external hard drives that most people now use to back up their PCs. But those drives won't hold all the digital detritus you'll accumulate over the next few years, especially if you get into high-def video and multimegapixel photos.

Most also lack the sharing, backup and recovery features of advanced network storage devices.

Within three years the average tech-savvy home will have 5 terabytes of data — about half the size of the Library of Congress' print collection — to store, according to Tom Coughlin, an Atascadero, Calif.-based storage-industry consultant.

It will get even crazier if people start recording their whole life with digital cameras, leaving them on all the time to capture and remember every moment, not just the Kodak ones. That will push the average home toward 100 terabytes of storage by 2015, Coughlin predicts, creating a huge demand not just for storage devices but also software.

Apple should introduce its own home server at Macworld this week. It's been working on a device that streams content from a computer to a TV, but there are lots of ways to do that already with or without wires.

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The next big competition is over whose system will emerge as the dominant home-storage platform.

It's also starting to look like a classic Microsoft battle: Windows Home Server is aimed directly at a big, growing market that's now dominated by Linux-based devices.

"Obviously, we're always concerned when anyone's charging into the place, but I think we do still have a technology advantage," said Oliver Kaven, product-marketing engineer at Buffalo, a Japanese company now leading the home-storage market with Linux devices.

"We bring some technologies to the table that other people are just right now implementing and trying to copy with not that much success," he said.

Kaven said Buffalo would consider Microsoft's software, but it likes the security, flexibility and price of Linux.

Microsoft is also challenging companies it partnered with in the past, such as Mediabolic, a San Mateo, Calif., storage-software company that demonstrated its wares at Microsoft's hardware conference in Seattle in May.

Mediabolic's president declined to comment before the Microsoft server was announced, but I hope to catch up with him this week at CES.

At the same time, Microsoft is creating opportunities for companies that opt to build on its storage platform.

One that's already signed up is Lifeware, an Ohio home-automation company. Vice President Mike Seamons said it will take a few years for these setups to go mainstream, but he's ready for one now — he's already filling the four external hard drives plugged into his Windows XP Media Center.

Lifeware's making products that can be added to a Windows home network to control appliances, lighting and other devices, as well as entertainment systems.

"There are lots of smart products out there, but none of them integrate together to develop this total cohesive system," Seamons said. "In a Microsoft-based world, all of these things come together and expand on the capabilities of the Media Center."

Perhaps we'll all have to become network administrators eventually so we can turn on the dishwasher and record a TV show now and then.

Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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